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Posted by Annie Bennett, Co-Editor 6/17/2019

The North Dakota Governor’s Walleye Cup (Governor’s Cup) is one of the largest fishing tournaments in the state. Fishermen and women travel from across the state, the U.S. and Canada to compete for the top prize of $15,000 and, of course, bragging rights. The 44th annual event will be held July 19-20 at Fort Stevenson State Park (FSSP) in Garrison.

The Tournament

The Governor’s Cup tournament was started in 1976 by a group of local men who wanted a fishing competition. The number of participants grew, and shortly after, the tournament was named the Governor’s Cup in honor of the state’s governors. The tournament has now grown to 252 two-person teams, that fish for two days on the east part of Lake Sakakawea. To join the tournament, each team must fill out an application and submit the $300 registration fee. “This year we had 289 applications make the January 16 postmark,” says Joyce Pfliger, Governor’s Cup committee chairwoman since 2005 and committee member for 36 years. “We currently have 59 teams on the waiting list, and this doesn’t include people who have called in.”

Pfliger says she waits about a week after the postmark deadline to allow time for out-of-state applications to arrive. She then puts all applications from the first postmarked date into a box and randomly draws applications. “The only team that is guaranteed a spot is the winner from the previous year; they are automatically team number one,” says Pfliger. “The order the applications are pulled from the box determines their corresponding team number.”

She says once all 252 spots are taken, she continues to draw names to form a waiting list. Once all the names from the first postmark date are drawn, she continues day-by-day, as needed.

Bill Marshall is the only participant that has fished in all 44 Governor’s Cup tournaments. “We have had a few that have only missed one or two years,” says Pfliger. “Bill is the only one who has fished every year. Forty-four years is quite a length of time, and his dedication to the tournament is very inspiring.”

Marshall says the tournament is something he looks forward to each year. “It is the highlight of the summer, and when it is done, you eat some crow and start preparing for next year,” he laughs.

The Governor’s Cup committee consists of seven individuals, who spend months preparing for the tournament. In addition to Pflinger, the 2019 committee includes Chad Bentz, Tod Graeber, Ronald Krebsbach, Morgan Bauer, all of Garrison, Don Trueblood of Minot, and Derek Seibold of Lincoln. In addition to the committee, Pfliger says the event receives a lot of help from volunteers.

The Thursday before the tournament, a rules meeting is held to clarify the rules of the tournament. Teams are assigned to one of four flights, which leave FSSP on Friday morning. The four flights leave 30 minutes apart and are given eight hours to catch eight fish. When a flight is due to return back to FSSP, teams load their boats and are shuttled to Garrison for weigh-ins.

Weigh-ins are held at the local park at the north end of Main Street, under Wally the Walleye, a 26-foot-long fiberglass monument. There teams are allowed to weigh-in five of their eight fish. “The fish from the first day of weigh-ins are donated to the Garrison Fire Department,” says Pfliger. “This year, the Garrison Fire Department will put on a fish dinner for teams on Thursday night at the rules meeting. They want to give back to the fishermen and women.”

If teams are interested, they are able to obtain fish from the second day from the Garrison Fire Department; however, most teams choose to donate their catch.

Unusual Circumstances

No matter how organized, there are certain circumstances the committee can’t control, like the weather. Pfliger says high winds can slow down weigh-ins, and it is not unusual for a storm to come through the week or weekend of the tournament. “When bad weather hits on an actual day of the tournament, we do our best to delay the flights,” she says. “If necessary, we will reschedule a fishing day to Sunday. Our number one concern is the safety of the fishermen and women.”

Last minute team cancellations also happen. “A few years ago, we had a team drop out just a couple of days before the tournament. I called the next team on the waiting list, which happened to be a couple of young guys from Garrison,” says Pfliger. “They didn’t have any time to pre-fish and ended up winning the whole tournament!”

Money and Bragging Rights

The team with the highest combined weight from the two days of fishing takes home the grand prize of $15,000, along with coats and plaques. Prizes are awarded through 42nd place. The fishermen with the largest walleye each day are also awarded $1,200. Of course, winning also comes with bragging rights, which is almost better than any amount of money in the fishing world, notes Pfliger.

Marshall has been on and off the leaderboard throughout the years. In 2010, he was in 19th place after the first day, down by 1.5 pounds from the first-place team. Marshall says he knew he and his fishing partner and brother, Michael Marshall, still had a chance to win.

During the second day, Marshall’s team weighed in and took the lead. The leading team was then placed in a boat with refreshments until another team took over as leaders. “Once we sat in the boat, I looked at my brother and said, ‘Drink fast, I don’t think we are going to sit here for very long,’” says Marshall.

Marshall and his brother sat in the boat the rest of the day and ended up winning the tournament with a weight of 25.25 pounds. “I still can’t believe it happened,” he says.

Marshall says he has no plans of ending his participation in the tournament anytime soon. “I plan to fish for as long as I am still able to roll in a boat,” he laughs.

The Community of Garrison

With its close proximity to Lake Sakakawea, the town of Garrison is booming during the summer months, but nothing compares to Governor’s Cup weekend. “The tournament really brings people to town, even a week before the event to pre-fish,” says Pfliger. “People are utilizing the gas stations, grocery store, bars, and restaurants. Each year, the crowd at the park is larger at weigh-ins.”

The weekend of Governor’s Cup is also busy with other community events, including city-wide rummage sales, starting on Thursday. FSSP also hold the Junior Governor’s Cup fishing derby for kids up to 17 years old. The 2019 Junior Governor’s Cup will be held Saturday, July 20, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. “We want to get kids involved so down the road you have fishing instilled in them,” says Pfliger.

“Garrison is proud to be home to the North Dakota Governor’s Walleye Cup. The fishing tournament has brought great recognition for our community through being the state’s premier fishing tournament with teams comprised of locals and tourists,” says McKaila Behles, director of the Garrison Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. “The community impact from the tournament is significant with many coming to pre-fish prior to the tournament and continuing to come to Garrison to recreate all year long and enjoy our many events.”

“We even saw the impact of fishermen moving here because of the tournament and their enjoyment of the lake,” continues Behles. “With Wally the Walleye and beautiful Lake Sakakawea, I couldn’t think of a better home for the North Dakota Governor’s Walleye Cup.”

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